Medical Education Loan Repayment

A powerful incentive for new professionals to choose primary care over specialty fields of medicine.


One of the main goals of the National Health Services Corps (NHSC) is to expand access to healthcare services and to improve the overall health of individuals living in medically underserved areas around the U.S. Through the active recruitment of primary care, dental, and mental health providers, the NHSC is able to place these physicians within service areas determined to have the highest need. In exchange for a minimum of two years of service, in a site approved by the NHSC, education loan relief is made available for many different types of providers. These placements are based on Health Professional Shortage Area scores.

In primary care HPSAs, family practitioners, internists, pediatricians, obstetricians and gynecologists, nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, and physician assistants working in primary care offices can apply for loan repayment. In dental HPSAs, general dentists, pediatric dentists, and registered dental hygienists are all eligible to enter into contract with the NHSC and receive loan forgiveness for their service. Finally, for mental health HPSAs, psychiatrists, health service psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, psychiatric nurse specialists, marriage and family therapists, as well as licensed professional counselors can apply for loan forgiveness.

This program now awards $50,000 in exchange for a commitment of two years of full-time service, in areas with high HPSA scores. The repayment is not subject to Federal income tax or employment taxes. It is money given to pay off a medical education loan originally issued either by the government or a commercial lending institution. The Corps' minimum two-year contract requires a practitioner to work 40 hours per week in primary care, and that patients be seen regardless of insurance. There is also a four-year contract option for working a minimum of 20 hours per week, part-time, and receiving the $50,000 in exchange for service.

Under the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, $300 million in additional funds were granted to the NHSC. It is possible for a practitioner to receive $170,000 during the course of 5 years of full-time service. The earlier the application is sent in, the more likely it is for funds to be approved. This period typically lasts eight weeks, and the funds are wired directly into the practitioner’s choice of bank account. Applicants must be working or commence working within 60 days of their application to receive funds.

Once the Secretary or his/her designee awards the contract, the practitioner will be contacted to attend a mandatory loan-repayment orientation conference for awardees. The seminars will cover:

  • How to successfully fulfill your commitment to the NHSC.
  • How to maximize your resources and tools when practicing in an underserved area.

Both of these objectives will help you and the NHSC expand access to healthcare in these medically underserved areas.

This program is for U.S. citizens and nationals only and is applied for through the National Health Service Corps. You may contact the NHSC at 1-800-221-9393 for more information.

Many states also offer HPSA-based medical education loan forgiveness to their residents. The Health Resources and Services Administration state loan repayment program currently provides matching loan forgiveness funds to more than 30 states. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides additional funds that are allocated to states as well. This money is for primary care clinicians who are willing to see any patients, whether they are insured or not.

The following states have established loan forgiveness programs at the state level.

Map courtesy of National Health Service Corps - U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Map courtesy of National Health Service Corps - U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

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